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Tycho brahe in china: the Jesuit mission to Peking and the iconography of European instrument-making processes

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Abstract:

In the late 1660s, Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish Jesuit missionary in Peking, was instructed to re-equip the Imperial Observatory. The new instruments which he caused to be built were modelled neither upon contemporary European prototypes, nor those of traditional Chinese astronomy, but on the pieces in Tycho Brahe's Mechanica , of eighty years before. The Chinese instruments were lavishly illustrated, moreover, in 105 woodcuts that contained detailed representations of their processes of construction. It is argued that these illustrations not only give us valuable insights into what the technical Jesuits did in Peking, but show how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century European craftsmen constructed their instruments, for while the location was Oriental, the technology was Western. They can also give important insights into how Tycho's prototypes had been built, and provide us with useful information regarding European instrument-making technology.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00033798400200341

Affiliations: Wadham College, Oxford, OX1 3PM, England

Publication date: September 1, 1984

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